Picture Play Magazine Vol. VIII July, 1918 No. 5
How I Saw “Hearts of the World”
Seated beside Lillian and Dorothy Gish, their guest for the evening, the writer witnessed the first public performance of the new Griffith masterpiece. This is an account of her impressions of that event.
By Marguerite Sheridan
GRIFFITH Night in Los Angeles! For months to come, “Hearts of the World,” the latest and mightiest work of this wizard of the cinematographic art, will continue to shine forth in all its wonder, its pathos, and its infinite charm, through the lenses of hundreds of projection machines in every city in the country, but in no place will it be the all – important event that was the premier showing in “The City of the “Angels.” Just as the master producer gave them “The Birth of a Nation” and “Intolerance” before even staid New York and the slightly less critical Chicago were allowed a peep, so was the first glimpse of this—”the sweetest love story ever told”—staged among the ruins of war torn France, accorded to his California friends. Before I tell you of this night of nights, let us go back a few days and journey out to the studio, where we will watch Griffith at work putting the finishing touches to “The Picture,” as it was called in an most awe-struck tone by everyone around the studio. Mrs. Gish, mother of the two lovely young girls who play the leading feminine roles in ‘Hearts of the World,” telephoned me that Lillian and Dorothy were at the studio that afternoon, and we would drive out about two o’clock. The exterior of the old Mutual – Reliance, Majestic, Fine Arts studio, out on Sunset Boulevard, was a keen disappointment to me. Perhaps I was looking for a cross between the San Francisco Exposition and Lincoln Park. Anyway, the huge pile of shacks, with a few Babylonian towers silhouetted against the sky, was not my idea of the proper place for D. W. Griffith, Lillian and Dorothy Gish and Bobby Harron to perpetuate their art. The girls were in their dressing room, attired in their “Hearts of the World” costumes, Dorothy in her “Little Disturber” gown, and Lillian in one of her bomb shattered frocks.
She had three copies of this same dress, each a little more dilapidated. Although they are quite unlike when you see them, still there’s a strong “family resemblance;” so Dorothy, who plays the part of a petite Parisienne, wears a short, curly black wig, while Lillian, the lovely, fragile fleur-de-lis, appears as her own beautiful blond self. I had long ago heard of David Belasco’s remark that Lillian Gish was the most perfect blonde he had ever seen; too, others have told me that none of her pictures, moving or otherwise, have done her justice; that she is far more beautiful. And I smiled and said nothing. One hears this sort of thing so often, and, anyway, I was entirely satisfied with the way Miss Gish looked on the screen—one could in the role of the Village Carpenter. A hardly ask for more. But it is true —for once the camera has failed to visualize certain facts. It is difficult to paint her exquisite daintiness, her ethereal loveliness, in cold black and white. I may be accused of rashness and all that sort of thing, but I want to go on record as saying that Lillian Gish is the most perfectly beautiful girl I have ever seen. And Dorothy – well, Dorothy is her mother’s own daughter in looks and speech and actions. She is very jolly, friendly, and clever — fairly bubbling over with fun, and her witty remarks kept us all laughing. She is very nervous, and kept chewing gum furiously—”to keep from chewing her nails,” as she expressed it. Their dressing room was very neat and pretty in black and white chintz. It is kept scrupulously clean by the “Madame,” the East Indian, who played a part in “The Birth of a Nation” – the negroes who spat and acted so dreadfully.
“Madame” fairly worships Mr. Griffith and calls him “her son.” The girls were waiting to do a scene or two, because Mr. Griffith had not liked the original. Retakes by the dozens he has done, so infinitely painstaking and careful is he always. Camera-Man Billy Bitzer appeared at the door and said that Mr. Griffith was calling for Miss Dorothy, and the scene was to be in the “lot,” so we went with her. This “lot” covers about two blocks of ground and is situated a block away from the studio. Out there all the exteriors, and ever so many “open interiors” such as the one Dorothy did, are taken. I spied Bobby Harron in his trench uniform, and then I looked around for the great Griffith. There was the illustrious gentleman, with his derby tilted on the side of his head and a long, black cigar in his mouth. Otherwise, he reminded me of a fine product of the old school of acting. Then I heard him speak. I have never heard such a compelling voice. It makes you think of people hurrying to obey whatever he might say. The scene was the staircase of “The Inn” in the little French village. They went over it countless times—it took an hour to get it finished, and it was the tiniest bit of action. Dorothy Gish looked as though she would drop from fatigue, but she was just as anxious as Mr. Griffith to have it perfect, so she went at it with all her might until he pronounced it satisfactory. When the scene was finished, a huge studio car rolled up and we all piled in. I had not met Mr. Griffith, and I was so impressed with being in his presence that I’m not quite sure what he said to me, except that he was very nice and cordial and wanted to know if this was my first experience and if I found it interesting. It was, and I did. Back to the studio, and this time it was an indoor set with Lillian and Robert Harron. “Mr. Griffith’s Boy ” as they call him, the hero of the play, is just the Robert Harron that you see on the screen—very serious, a little sad, quite “Griffith-like”—that’s the only word that properly describes him.
We went into a dark, cold room, stumbled over lumber, cords attached to lights, people, and other impedimenta. Then I reached some sort of consciousness that lights were burning very brightly, directions were shouted, and I fell into a chair which one Mr. George Seigmann, Griffith’s right-hand man, pushed out for me. In the film, Mr. Seigmann sinks to the depths of portraying Von Strohm, German secret-service agent ; otherwise he’s a very nice man. It was very thrilling, watching Mr. Griffith direct at such close range. His methods are very simple ; he doesn’t rant and rave—I think it’s his voice that puts things over. And he’s immensely funny at times. Again the scene didn’t suit him. Down to the projection room he went to look at the scene immediately before it. Mr. Seigmann succeeded in getting the set arranged correctly. Ready! Camera ! Action ! And it was over. Mrs. Gish told me how they happened to go to Europe with Mr. Griffith. They were in New York, waiting for him to decide just what he was going to do with his contract with the British government. The government insisted on plain war stuff, and Mr. Griffith insisted just as firmly that he must have a story running through the scenes on the western front. It was finally arranged, and Mrs. Gish, Lillian, and Mr. Griffith went first. When they were three days out, they wired for Dorothy, Robert Harron, and William Bitzer, the Camera-man who has filmed all the Griffith photo plays. The latter trio went over on the ship with Pershing; and Dorothy told me that she was quite delighted with the famous general, and he told her that he knew her, too, very well ; when he was in Mexico, motion pictures were the soldiers’ chief diversions, and the Gishes entertained them frequently.
At last came the lovely spring night for which we were anxiously waiting, Clune’s Theater, an immense place, was packed to the doors before eight o’clock, and a disappointed throng was clamoring outside for admission. In the lobby were boys dressed as French poilus, British Tommies, and our own American boys. Beautiful flowers were there, too—gifts to Mr. Griffith and his players. Of course California is so full of wonderful flowers that they don’t make quite the impression they would in New York, but a floral piece to Mr. Griffith “From the Boys” made even the native sons hesitate a moment to admire. It was Dorothy Gish’s idea that they mingle with the crowd on the opening night instead of occupying the customary box.
“I couldn’t have all those people staring at me,” said this very democratic young miss. And it was fortunate, indeed, for me that they decided on seats on the first floor of the mezzanine floor and secured one for me, or otherwise I would have had to seek cold comfort that night at Grauman’s or the Kinema. Every seat was sold on the first day. Dear Mrs. Gish chaperoned the party, looking almost as young as her two lovely daughters in her handsome black-and-silver gown and a corsage bouquet of red roses. “The most adorable Lily” sat next to me. Her evening coat was white velvet, with a white fur collar that hung to her waist. Yards of misty white maline were draped around her golden hair, which was arranged very simply in coils around her head. She wore an orchid-colored gown veiled in silver, and her flowers were orchids. I could scarcely keep my eyes on the picture for looking at her. Which, in itself, is quite a compliment.
Dorothy was very sweet and girlish in lavender taffeta. She hates fussy clothes. It is my opinion that if Mrs. Gish and Lillian didn’t attend to her wardrobe for her, this young lady would cling mostly to middy blouses and sport clothes. She had a birthday that week, however; so Lillian’s gift, a truly wonderful evening coat, was aired for the first time. It was a ravishing affair of lavender and gray chiffon, banded with flying squirrel, and, as Dorothy said : “I may freeze to death, but I’ll have to wear my new coat!” Robert Harron was there, looking very handsome and boyish in his evening clothes. Right next to Bobby was a vacant seat—behind a post. Oh, how I wished for one adoring Griffith satellite I knew—I am sure he would have gladly craned his neck around that post for a week just to see “The Hearts of the World.”
Just behind us was a seat reserved for Mr. Griffith, which he didn’t occupy. I’m not sure just where the master director watched the picture ; but he turned up later, so I knew he was around somewhere.
In her box on one side of the theater, Queen Mary Pickford held court, a very lovely Mary, with a dear smile on her face and many curls on top of her head. The entire picture-play colony turned out to do Mr. Griffith homage. I doubt if there has ever been such a brilliant assemblage under one roof. There was Howard Hickman with his wife, the lovely Bessie Barriscale; Mr. and Mrs. Robert McKim ; Mildred Harris ; Seena Owen, looking more than ever “The Princess Beloved ;” Alma Rubens, the beautiful brunette from the Triangle forces, in a stunning white evening gown ; Blanche Sweet in palest gray, a very sweet and flowerlike Blanche, whom all her friends greeted Warmly. It’s been many a day since we’ve seen her face on the screen. The Talmadge family was represented by Mrs. Talmadge, Constance, a very attractive young person in brown and Natalie, who looks very much like Norma. Promptly at eight fifteen the curtain rose, and “the play was the thing.” The action was so intense and stirring that it didn’t seem half an hour, although it was really almost three hours long. It is marvelous to think how the brains and genius of one man can sway such a vast throng—they were chilled and thrilled and dissolved in tears. It was superb.
“An Old-fashioned Play with a New-fashioned Theme,” the program calls it. Yes, it is an old, old story, but it is told in the newest and most wonderful way. And far above the din of battle, massing of troops, recapturing of villages, one can always hear the love note—the thing which Griffith shows is going to save the world. Whenever the battle scenes get just a little too horrible to endure comfortably, when the action is so realistic that one can almost feel the shrapnel flying around, we are taken back to the peaceful quiet of the little French village and our nerves allowed to rest for a brief space. All the lovely, human touches that have characterized the former Griffith spectacles are present in “The Hearts of the World.” To me they are the greatest marks of the Griffith genius. As far as personal successes are concerned, Lillian Gish as Marie Stephenson is startlingly superior to anything she has ever done. Pitifully lovely she has been before, but never really so fine as in this role. With her exquisite, poignant beauty, she is the real spirit of France. Robert Harron’s Douglas Gordon Hamilton is splendid and soldierly, and, oh, how we sorrow and rejoice with him in his love affair with “The Girl !” Into the midst of this Eden comes The Little Disturber, a strolling singer, charmingly played by Dorothy Gish, and she falls in love with young Hamilton. Of course it is of no avail, but the part gives Miss Dorothy a chance to show what a remarkably clever little comedienne she is. She makes the most of every foot of film she is given—and we can’t help wishing she had several hundred more. I must say just a word about the music that was especially arranged for the production. Never before, I think, have melodies been so deftly woven throughout a picture. The music is indeed part of it—not a mere background. It was arranged after the manner that Wagner wrote.
THE presentation of D. W. Griffith’s love story of the Great War, “Hearts of the World,” makes it imperative that I open my remarks on recent screen offerings with a short discussion of the war picture. For there has never been anything like “Hearts of the World.” Griffith alone has been able to bring the bigness of the world conflict to the celluloid. It has overwhelmed all other directors and writers who have endeavored to touch upon it intimately. The usual product is a foolish melodrama. Neither hero nor heavy is human. But Griffith’s skill has resulted in the interweaving of a beautiful love story carried by human protagonists with the somber, relentless panorama of war in all its reality. The actual scenes he procured at the front are amazing, and the domestic scenes supplementing them even more so. The Gish sisters, Robert Harron, Robert Anderson, youthful Ben Alexander, and George Siegemann perform as they could only under the master director.